Unlikely Cascade of Failures Leads to Microwave’s Demise

Surely a blown light bulb can’t kill a microwave oven, right? You might not expect it to, but that was indeed the root cause of a problem that [mikeselecticstuff] recently investigated; the cascade of failures is instructive to say the least.

While the microwave that made its way to [mike]’s bench wasn’t exactly engineered to fail, it surely was not designed to succeed. We won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that his hopes for a quick repair after the owner reported a bang before it died were dashed by an arc across the interior light bulb that put a pulse of mains voltage in places it didn’t belong. That the cascade of failures killed the appliance is a testament to how designing to a price point limits how thoroughly devices can be tested before production runs in the millions are stuffed into containers for trips to overseas markets.

Even though [mike] made his best effort to adhere to the Repair Manifesto, the end result was a scrapped microwave. It wasn’t a total loss given the interesting parts inside, but a disappointment nonetheless unless it forces us to keep in mind edge-case failure modes in our designs.

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Measuring Gait Speed Passively to Diagnose Diseases

You may not realize it, but how fast a person walks is an important indicator of overall health. We all instinctively know that we lag noticeably when a cold or the flu hits, but monitoring gait speed can help diagnose a plethora of chronic diseases and conditions. Wearables like Fitbit would be one way to monitor gait speed, but the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT thinks there’s a better way:  a wireless appliance that measures gait speed passively.

CSAIL’s sensor, dubbed WiTrack (PDF), is a wall-mounted plaque that could be easily concealed as a picture or mirror. It sends out low-power RF signals between about 5- and 7-GHz to perform 3D motion tracking in real time. The WiTrack sensor has a resolution of about 8 cm at those frequencies. With their WiGait algorithms (PDF), the CSAIL team led by [Chen-Yu Hsu] is able to measure not only overall walking speed, but also stride length. That turns out to be critical to predicting the onset of such diseases as Parkinson’s, which has a very characteristic shuffling gait in the early phase of the disease. Mobility impairments from other diseases, like ALS and multiple sclerosis, could also be identified.

WiTrack builds on [Hsu]’s previous work with through-wall RF tracking. It’s nice to see a novel technique coming closer to a useful product, and we’ll be watching to see where this one goes.

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$2700 eBay Bet Pays off for this 14 GHz Spectrum Analyzer Repair

The eBay addiction starts small. One night you’re buying $3 buck-boost converters and cheap Chinese USB power packs. The next thing you know you’re spending thousands on dead instruments with no documentation. You’ve got the skills though, and if your bet that you can diagnose and repair a 14 GHz real-time spectrum analyzer is right, you’ll be putting a snazzy instrument on the bench for a fraction of the original $50,000 it cost.

Make some popcorn and get cozy before settling in to watch [Shahriar]’s video below, because it clocks in at just over an hour. But it’s pretty entertaining, and just seeing how Tektronix built the RSA 6114A spectrum analyzer is worth the time. Things are different when you’re piping microwave signals around the chassis of a beast such a this, the interior of which is densely packed with pluggable modules. Tek factory service would no doubt perform a simple module swap to get this machine running again, but [Shahriar] wasn’t having any of that on his $2,700 eBay find. After isolating the problem to the local-oscillator generator module, [Shahriar] takes us on a tour of where the signals go and what they do. We won’t reveal the eventual culprit, but suffice it to say that after a little SMD rework, [Shahriar] has a very fancy new instrument for the shop.

If this repair gives you the itch to get working on microwave circuits, maybe it’s time to build that backyard synthetic aperture radar set you’ve always wanted.

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Toshiro Kodera: Electromagnetic Gyrotropes

We’ve learned a lot by watching the talks from the Hackaday Superconferences. Still, it’s a rare occurrence to learn something totally new. Microwave engineer, professor, and mad hacker [Toshiro Kodera] gave a talk on some current research that he’s doing: replacing natural magnetic gyrotropic material with engineered metamaterials in order to make two-way beam steering antennas and more.

If you already fully understood that last sentence, you may not learn as much from [Toshiro]’s talk as we did. If you’re at all interested in strange radio-frequency phenomena, neat material properties, or are just curious, don your physics wizard’s hat and watch his presentation. Just below the video, we’ll attempt to give you the Cliff’s Notes.

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Get On 10 GHz For 3 Euros

A frequent complaint you will hear about amateur radio is that it is a chequebook pursuit. Of course you can work the incredible DX if you spend $20k on a high-end radio, big antenna, and associated components. The reality is though that because it’s such a multi-faceted world there are many ways into it of which the operator with the shiny rig is taking only one.

On the commonly used HF and VHF bands at the lower end of the radio spectrum you will definitely find chequebook amateurs of the type described in the previous paragraph. But as you ascend into the microwave bands there are no shiny new radios on the market, so even the well-heeled licensee must plow their own furrow and build their own station.

You might think that this would remain a chequebook operation of a different type, as exotic microwave devices are not always cheap. But in fact these bands have a long history of extremely inexpensive construction, in which skilled design and construction as well as clever re-use of components from satellite TV systems and Doppler radar modules play a part. And it is a project following this path that is our subject today, for [Peter Knol, PA1SDB] has repurposed a modern Doppler radar module as a transmitter for the 10GHz or 3cm amateur band (Google Translate version of Dutch original). The best bit about [Peter]’s project is the price: these modules can be had for only three Euros.

Years ago a Doppler module would have used a Gunn diode in a waveguide cavity and small horn, usually with an adjacent mixer diode for receiving. Its modern equivalent uses a transistor oscillator on a PCB, with a dielectric resonator and a set of patch antennas. There is also a simple receiver on board, but since [Peter] is using a converted ten-Euro satellite LNB for that task, it is redundant.

He takes us through the process of adjusting the module’s frequency before showing us how to mount it at the prime focus of a parabolic antenna. FM modulation comes via a very old-fashioned transformer in the power feed. He then looks at fitting an SMA connector and using it for more advanced antenna set-ups, before experimenting with the attenuating properties of different substances. All in all this is a fascinating read if you are interested in simple microwave construction.

The result is not the most accomplished 10 GHz station in the world, but it performs adequately for its extremely low price given that he’s logged a 32 km contact with it.

Though we cover our fair share of amateur radio stories here at Hackaday it’s fair to say we haven’t seen many in the microwave bands. If however you think we’ve been remiss in this area, may we point you to our recent coverage of a microwave radio receiver made from diamond?

Via Southgate ARC.

Trio of Magnetrons Power a Microwave Rifle

Can you build a working EM weapon from three microwave ovens? Apparently, yes. Should you do so? Maybe not when the best safety gear you can muster is a metallized Mylar film fetish suit and a Hershey’s Kiss hat.

Proving that language need not be a barrier to perfect understanding of bad ideas, the video below tells you all you need to know, even without subtitles in the non-Russian language of your choice. [KREOSAN]’s build is obnoxiously obvious — three magnetrons mounted on a tin can “resonator” with a foil-covered waveguide at the business end. The magnetrons are tickled by a stun-gun that’s powered by a pack of 18650 batteries. The video shows some “experiments”, like lighting up unpowered CFL bulbs from about 15 meters away and releasing the Blue Smoke from the electrical system of a running motor scooter. Assuming they weren’t added in post, the artifacts in the video belie the gun’s lack of shielding for the operator. We doubt any of the ad hoc safety gear would provide any protection from the resulting microwaves, but we also doubt that it matters much when things have gotten this far.

We’re not too sure about this one — some of the zapping stunts look a little too conveniently explosive. It’s hard to tell the details without a translation, so maybe one of our Russian-speaking readers can pitch in on the comments. Although this isn’t [KRESOAN]’s first microwave rodeo, having melted a few lightbulbs with magnetrons before. Even seeing this we still consider EMP Weapons a figment of Hollywood’s imagination.

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DIY Spot Welder Doesn’t Look Like it Will Immediately Kill You

We love hacks that involve mains voltage, but most of the time, for safety’s sake, we secretly hope for that one macabre commenter that details every imaginable way the questionable design choices will result in death. This spot welder may still be dangerous, but it looks like they took some precautions to make it non-lethal, and that counts for a lot.

After their extremely questionable high speed belt sander, this one is, refreshingly, extremely well done. It starts of as a dead standard microwave spot welder build: take apart microwave, try not to die from large capacitor, remove coil, modify coil, and hook up.

After that, it gets to some nice heavy metal music fabrication. Aside from a slightly shocking number of fresh OSHA reportable hand injuries (wear gloves!) the build goes together well. A lot of planning obviously went into it, from the actively cooled transformer to what appears to be a resettable timer circuit for the weld duration, not to mention the way that it just fit together so well at the end. There were some neat ideas as far as home mechanics go that we’ll be using in some of our projects.

In the end, the proof is in the spot-weld. The timer is set, pedal gets pressed down, and when tested, the sheet metal breaks instead of the weld. Video after the break.

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